Albums of 2014 (#3) : The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

They might've sounded like Dylan and Springsteen to many, but Adam Granduciel ensured the War On Drugs adopted classic tropes in order to ultimately do their own thing

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 03 Dec 2014
  • War On Drugs

If Adam Granduciel hadn’t already come up with one of the last decade’s killer album openers with Best Night’s effortless push-off into Slave Ambient’s woozily tranquil waters in 2011; then Under The Pressure sealed the Philadelphian’s reputation as an artist in possession of that intrinsic ability to transport his listeners onto his own parallel plain at the flick of a switch.

Amidst a sense of spatial bliss, punctuated by a few whirring clicks and drip-fed guitars, Under The Pressure quickly takes on Lost In The Dream's overriding semiotics, to plunge deep into a crisply hi-fi world of textural passages that stretch, yawning out before you like a quiet highway in the dead of night, with flickering motifs briefly registering before sputtering out in the mind’s eye; these are shimmering vestiges of rock classicism re-imagined.

"For a while there, I would get up in the morning, make coffee and sit there for hours and play piano, sometimes pressing record, sometimes not” – Adam Granduciel

Classicism is the key word; as the War On Drugs’ stock inevitably rose since Lost In The Dream's March release, they’ve found the Springsteen/Dylan comparisons that've always lingered, levelled at them at ever-more resounding volume by fans and detractors alike, gleefully pounced upon as though they’ve been sussed out amidst their blending FX-laden shades. There's nothing to necessarily expose here though; a certain school of thinking on the band posits that, with Lost In The Dream, they've edged away from a past as a psychedelia-orientated jam band towards a more centrally-placed pop act; but the centre pivot of Granduciel’s song writing has always been its base intention to connect on a truly universal level. As he told The Skinny earlier this year, “I love sitting down at the piano in the morning writing songs and picking up melodies. For a while there, I would get up in the morning, make coffee and sit there for hours and play piano, sometimes pressing record, sometimes not.”

Lost In The Dream has proven to be his most naked expression of that yet. Red Eyes was a natural pre-album single, the War On Drugs' most immediate work to-date and an irresistibly euphoric ascent through widescreen rock’s most instantaneously rejuvenative effects. Eyes To The Wind feels at once deeply personal and yet completely opaque, allowing the listener to map their own nostalgic path through its narrative even as its creator explores his. There's enough subversion to keep things interesting too; An Ocean In Between The Waves stretches out towards eight minutes and yet contains the sort of quick-fix earworm hooks that linger in the memory long after the track's moved on.

The last album to so successfully embrace the oft-derided notion of classicism, Destroyer’s 80s-indebted smooth rock opus Kaputt, did so with the underlying sense of a tongue at least tickling the inside of its cheek. Lost In The Dream similarly turns a façade of homage inside out to fit its new wearer, elevting the band to a realm all of its own. 

Playing Albert Hall, Manchester on 18-19 Feb and The Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 28 Feb